Less than two months ago, Rutgers Women’s Soccer player Jonelle Filigno came home from the London Olympic Games with a bronze medal; the first ever for her country, Canada. Jonelle has been competing at the International level for Canada since she was 17 years old, with two Olympic Games and a World Cup already under her belt.
Earlier this week, the star forward weighed in with me on a number of Women’s Soccer topics, including the current rivalry on the pitch between Canada and the United States, and what it is like to play alongside one of the best forwards in the women’s game: Christine Sinclair.
I know that International experience is not new to you – you were 17 years old as a member of the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing, and you have competed on the U17 and U20 Youth National Teams for Canada. Would you say, then, that you have, in a sense, grown up playing at the International level?
Did US Women’s Soccer influence you at all growing up in Canada?
Mia Hamm was definitely a player that was known throughout Canada as well as in the US. She was definitely someone to look up to when I was really young, because at that time I didn’t have a Christine Sinclair to look up to as girls do now. But, the focus obviously, was more on Canada for me.
The top professional leagues in Women’s Soccer right now are overseas in Sweden, Germany and France, among others. I know you have another year of eligibility left at Rutgers, but have you thought about where your professional career may be forced to go as a result of there not being a top-tier professional league currently in North America?
To be honest, I really haven’t thought of it much. My number one priority is the National Team. It’s the one team I’ll be in and out of camps for. As for the club level, I haven’t thought about where I’d want to play. I’m not sure if I’m ready at this point. For the past few years, I’ve been away from home traveling the world and have not gotten to see my family as much as I’d like to. At this point, with finishing the Olympics and everything, I just want to focus on the National Team. If the league comes back in the US then that would be amazing. But, I’m not too sure I’m ready at this point to pick up and move overseas.
As a younger player, what’s your take on how this may or may not affect Women’s Soccer throughout Canada and the United States?
I don’t think it hurts those girls fighting for a spot with the National Team. I feel like they’re going to look for other teams and they will find teams to play for ultimately. If you are close enough to gain a spot on the National Team, you are going to look for options and continue to play at the highest level. For younger girls, I think it does hurt. Girls look up to the players who played for WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) including US players. The past success of the US in World Cups and at the Olympics has skyrocketed the involvement of young players in soccer.
LONDON 2012 OLYMPICS
Do you feel the Olympics was a success for the National Team?
Yes, definitely. We’ve never had a medal before so to bring that home was unbelievable for our country. It was like a gold medal for us because it was our first. It’s an amazing feeling, and everyone was behind us. It’s one of the biggest stories to come out of the Olympics for Canada.
How would you quantify the growth the team made throughout your time in London? A little growth? Tremendous growth? Do you feel a whole new team left London in comparison to the one that arrived?
We definitely came back a different team. The medal helped us gain more confidence and belief. Now we want to do better next time. In four years, we want the gold.
Have you noticed a greater sense of maturity on the field as a result of your Olympic experience specifically?
Under our new coach (John Herdman), we’ve seen a team we haven’t seen yet. It’s all effort, all the time. He has every single aspect right for us. The physical part, the mental part, the tactics. All of it has matured us.
As a player, would you say that there is a significant rivalry between Canada and the United States?
To be honest, I think they are more of a rival to us, but I’m not sure if we’re the same for them. As history shows, they have more wins against us than we have against them, and I know they’re a very confident team. I don’t see them portraying us as a rival or as much of a rival as we see them.
Since the arrival of your new head coach, John Herdman, last Fall the team is different. Can you attest to that? I mean, playing at the senior level in the 2008 Olympics you finish 8th as a team, and in last summer’s World Cup you don’t advance past the group stage. But, with less than a year with him at the helm the team has earned its first Olympic medal. What has he done or brought to the approach and play of the team that is so significant?
His style is different. Everything is completely different. John has taken what our last coach started and brought it up to another level. One huge thing has been him just knowing the team inside and out. As a player you want your coach to have all of the answers and he has that, all of the time.
Give me one word or one sentence to describe what it’s like to play alongside Christine Sinclair.
It is something that I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.
RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS
I looked at the teams record from last year and at this point in the season a year ago you guys were 6-5-1. This year, you’re at 8-3. What has been different so far this year? New players? Different mentality?
I think last year had a lot to do with losing close games either 1-0 or 2-0. I think we were a little unlucky last year. This year feels like a different atmosphere and a new team. Half of the team are Freshman and they are in the starting XI. They have definitely brought the team to a new level.
Building off of the last question: The second half of the season last year ended with a losing record of 2-5-3. How is the team approaching the second half of this season to ensure more winning results?
We’re getting to the root of the problems. We continue to have a lot of meetings as a team when we feel like they’re heading in the wrong direction to find out what we need to change so we can adjust because I think with everything that happens on the field there is a reason. So, it’s important for us to recognize what those reasons are and come out better in our next game.
Who is the biggest challenge left on the schedule for the team?
Notre Dame. But, honestly, anyone in the Big East is a challenge.
Do you see the team making a run in the Big East Tournament this year?
Yes. We’re 1-3 in the Big East right now which is not the start we wanted, but we are optimistic.
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